Military ready to punish Serbs for Sarajevo attack

Click to follow
Britain and the other four members of the "contact group" on the former Yugoslavia last night endorsed a military response to the mortaring of Sarajevo's main market after concluding "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible.

Officials from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, meeting in Paris, expressed "full support for the military measures that are deemed necessary", according to a French source. The European Union mediator, Carl Bildt, who was also present, said there would be "a significant military response to the Sarajevo massacre, and the Serbs have been informed".

Apparently seeking to avert artillery or air strikes, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, sent a message to the former US president, Jimmy Carter, yesterday to say he accepted the US peace plan for Bosnia as a basis for negotiation, and supported the earliest possible resumption of peace talks.

American officials saw "potentially positive elements" in his offer, but, echoing the sentiment in other Western capitals, Washington insisted that Monday's mortar attack, which killed 37 people and wounded more than 80, must be answered with force. "Yesterday's actions were murderous, and the Bosnian Serbs must be held accountable for those actions," said the State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns.The US yesterday ordered the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt back into the Adriatic.

Although an attack on the Serbs would pose a threat to the latest US peace initiative, Nato governments were aware that the credibility of their Bosnian policies would come into question if they failed to respond to the Sarajevo slaughter only weeks after promising firm military action in retaliation for indiscriminate Bosnian Serb attacks on civilians. A child died yesterday when a mortar bomb landed near Sarajevo's brewery, where people queue for water.

The British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, concluded after examining a report on the Sarajevo mortaring that "beyond any reasonable doubt, the attack came from Bosnian Serb positions". The Bosnian Serbs had earlier accused Muslim-led forces of bombarding their own people in the hope of provoking Western intervention in the war.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, said in Paris that his government might pull out of peace talks, described by the US as "the last best chance" to end the war, if the West failed to punish the Bosnian Serbs. Richard Holbrooke, the American peace negotiator, striving to keep the initiative alive, met Mr Izetbegovic in Paris and is due in Belgrade today for talks with the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr Izetbegovic said after meeting President Jacques Chirac of France that he had won a pledge to keep open two key roads - one over Mount Igman, the other through the airport - to help to break the 40-month siege of Sarajevo.

Hopes for reprisals, page 9

Leading article, page 14